You Shall Be Blameless

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. – Deuteronomy 18:9-14 ESV

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Which is to say that if someone mimics your actions or behavior, they are expressing admiration for you. And while there may be some truth to this idiom, in far too many cases, imitation can be a dangerous game to play. Failure to consider the character of the one you seek to emulate can result in far-from-flattering or beneficial outcomes. Seeking to pattern your life after someone else can be driven by all kinds of unhealthy motives. It is far too easy to focus on the external fruit of their behavior; such as success, wealth, and popularity, while failing to closely examine what they had to do to achieve those results. Did their path to success require that they cut corners, bend the rules, compromise their convictions, or sacrifice their integrity? Better yet, will imitating their lives require those things of you?

As the time approached for the people of Israel to enter the land of promise, Moses spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to prepare them for the formidable task that lay ahead of them. They were entering a new stage in their relationship with God that would be like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their faith in God would be tested in ways they could not even begin to imagine. Their willingness to remain faithful to God would come under constant attack.

Compromise would become a daily temptation. Complacency would be a constant threat to their commitment to God. Remaining set apart to God would be far more difficult than they could know. Maintaining their distinction as God’s holy people was going to require diligence and a determination to remain uncompromisingly committed to Him. Moses had repeatedly communicated their unique status as God’s chosen people.

“But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.” – Deuteronomy 4:20 ESV

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. – Deuteronomy 14:2 ESV

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. – Deuteronomy 14:21 ESV

The Hebrew word for “holy” is qadowsh, and it means “sacred” or “set apart.” The Israelites had been separated out by God and consecrated as His possession. They belonged to Him. Like Adam and Eve, the Israelites had been created by God and set apart for His glory. But their status as His chosen possession was going to require that they live according to His holy standards. They were not free to live as they wished. They could not follow the ways of the world. And God expected them to make the land of Canaan a veritable island of holiness in the sea of wickedness that covered the world.

Three times in five verses, Moses uses the Hebrew word, tow`ebah, to describe the ways of the people occupying the land of Canaan. They were an abomination to God because their ways were morally repugnant to Him. Their behavior was unacceptable to a holy God. So, Moses warns the Israelites from following their “abominable practices.” And he makes it clear that anyone among the Israelites who imitates their ways will be “an abomination to the Lord.”

Rather than mimic the ways of the Canaanites, the people of God were to do everything in their power to remain set apart and distinct. Moses put it in very stark terms.

“You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 18:13 ESV

The Hebrew word for “blameless” is tamiym and it carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. It is the very same word God had used when addressing Abraham nearly half a millennium earlier.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” – Genesis 17:1 ESV

While tamiym can be translated as “perfect” or “unblemished,” God was not demanding sinlessness from Abraham. But was expecting Abraham to live his entire life in keeping with His ways. Abraham was to live an integral or whole life, dedicated to God and set apart for His glory. And Moses was trying to convey the same thought to the people of Israel. He was not expecting them to remain totally free from contamination by the world. That would have been impossible, given their sinful natures and the ubiquitous nature of evil in the world. But Moses wanted them to fully understand just how dangerous compromise with the world would be.

And while most of the abominable practices that Moses pointed out had to do with witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and the occult, all of these things were associated with Canaanite religious practices. Moses knew that the Israelites would be tempted to weave these morally disgusting practices into their own worship of Yahweh. Compromise would be a constant threat for the Israelites, resulting in their failure to remain tamiym – unblemished and unstained by the world.

God expected His people to live as who they are: His chosen possession. Their lives were to reflect their unique status as His set-apart ones. Enjoying their status as God’s children came with a non-negotiable requirement that they honor the distinctiveness of their position by living holy lives.

There was no room for compromise or complacency. They were to share God’s disgust and disdain for the ways of the Canaanites. They were to resist exposure to and contamination by the abominable practices of the Canaanites. And they were to never forget that God’s will was the complete eradication of the Canaanites and their unholy ways from the land.

When it comes to holiness, imitation of the world is not flattery, it’s idolatry. Compromising our convictions by copying the ways of the world is unacceptable for God’s people. We have been set apart. We belong to Him. As His children, we are to reflect His character and bring glory to His name by the way we live our lives – wholly unto Him.

The religion of the Israelites was totally unique and prescribed by God. It was not the result of man’s imagination and was not to reflect the practices of the pagan nations of the world. God had set Israel apart positionally and practically. Their status as His people was to show up in everyday life, especially when it came to their worship of Him.

There are all kinds of religions in the world, but only one brand of religious activity is acceptable to God. And James describes this kind of religion in very plain terms.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:27 NLT

And, as Paul told his disciple, Titus, the people of God are still expected to live distinctively different lives, not emulating the ways of this world but reflecting our status as God’s chosen people.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Blameless in Holiness

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV

Paul closes this section of his letter by reiterating his desire to return to Thessalonica. But as he shared earlier in the letter, that desire had been resisted by the enemy.

…we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 ESV

Yet, Paul knew that his path was determined by God, not Satan. He was fully convinced that his return to Thessalonica was in the hands of the Almighty, and it was his prayer that God the Father and God the Son would make it possible. The Greek word Paul used is kateuthynō, and it means to guide or make straight by the removal of any obstacles or hindrances. Paul will use this same Greek word in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 ESV

Paul knew that what God wanted done would be done. If He wanted Paul to return to Thessalonica, it would happen. Satan himself has no power to thwart God’s will. And Paul knew that God alone possesses the power to remove any obstacles to the believer’s spiritual journey, making it possible for them to experience the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

For Paul, God was the key to everything. The Trinity was the sole source of the believer’s strength and hope. The Father’s will for man’s redemption, made possible by the work of His Son on the cross, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the non-negotiable necessities behind the believer’s transformation from condemned sinner to glorified saint. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that any hope they had to live strong, blameless, and holy lives was totally dependent upon the Father, Son, and Spirit. And it was Paul’s constant prayer that God would “establish” or strengthen their hearts so that they might live worthy of their calling.

When Paul uses the word “heart,” he is not referring to the organ that pumps blood through the body. While the Greek word kardia did have that meaning, Paul was using it to refer to the center of all spiritual life. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes it as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.”

Paul knew that the external behavior of the Thessalonians was directly tied to the internal condition of their hearts. Jesus warned that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). The Old Testament proverb reads: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). The outward actions of our lives tend to flow from the inward condition of our hearts. That is why any attempts at behavior modification without transformation of the heart are doomed to failure.

The goal, as far as Paul was concerned, was a strong finish. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to run the race well and keep their eyes on the prize. For him, the journey was meaningless if you didn’t remain focused on the destination. That is how he lived his life.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And he expected all those under his spiritual care to follow his lead. Which is why he emphasizes “the coming of our Lord Jesus.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia and it was most often used by Paul to refer to the return of Christ. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul will provide the Thessalonians with insight into the day when Christ will return for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

Jesus was coming back. That fact is a very important part of the gospel message. Jesus‘ first coming, while epic in nature and essential to the promise of salvation, is incomplete if He does not come again. Jesus promised the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. And He told them, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 NLT). The bad news was that He was leaving them. The good news was that He was coming back some day. And immediately after telling the disciples He was leaving but would be returning some day, He promised to send them His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” – John 14:27-28 NLT

That promise holds true for each and every believer in Christ. The Thessalonians had received the gift of the Spirit, who was fully capable of giving the peace of mind and heart. He had the power to transform their inner lives so that their outward behavior reflected their confidence and hope in the promise of their future glorification. Their ability to become like Christ was provided by the Spirit, who would guide and empower them until the return of Christ. But if Christ did not return before they died, they had nothing to fear because they would go to be with Him.

The promised return of Christ is meant to remind us that this life is not all there is. There is life after death. There is glory to come. This temporal existence will be followed by the eternal state. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). He told the Corinthian believers: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). And Peter shared Paul’s confident hope in the promise of God.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

One day we will stand before God blameless in holiness. We will be sinless and completely righteous. That future reality, guaranteed by the word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, is to keep us motivated as we live in this fallen, sin-filled world. Any momentary, light afflictions we may have to suffer in this life will pale in comparison to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Growing Together

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. – Philippians 2:12-18 ESV

Paul has just provided the Philippian believers with a vivid portrait of Christ, intended as an illustration of what he means to think like Christ thinks. Paul wants them to have the same attitude or outlook on life that Christ did. For Paul, Christ was the consummate example of humility and selflessness – even though He was God. When faced with the divine plan that required His incarnation and, ultimately His crucifixion, Jesus didn’t cling to His divine status or deem Himself as beneath His royal status as the Son of God. He understood that it was His holiness and worthiness that, when joined with human flesh, would make Him the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Jesus humbled Himself, willingly and completely, obeying the will of His Father – all the way to the point of an excruciating and humiliating death on the cross. And He did it all out of love for sinful mankind.

And it was that selfless, sacrificial love that Paul wanted the Philippian believers to emulate. It was what he wanted for each and every congregation he had helped to start. He told the Ephesians:

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT

And he expanded on this idea when writing to the Colossian believers:

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14 NLT

Notice that Paul is describing an emulation of Christ that shows up in tangible, visible expressions. When Paul speaks of having the mind of Christ, he is not describing some cognitive, intellectual exercise. It is an internal attitude that should result in external actions. Which is why Paul tells the Philippians to “work out your own salvation.” That phrase, “work out” is a single word in the Greek which means, “to do that from which something results.” Paul is not teaching salvation by self-effort. But he is clearly expecting the believers to whom he is writing to put energy and effort into living out the salvation freely provided to them by Christ. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation.” 

The salvation provided by Christ’s selfless sacrifice of His life was intended to be truly transformational. It didn’t just provide a change in legal status, from guilty and condemned to justified and forgiven. It was meant to result in our ongoing sanctification or transformation into the very character of Christ. Our salvation, provided free of charge by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone, is meant to produce in us a righteousness that mirrors that of Christ. Remember what Paul told the believers in Philippi in the opening chapter of this letter.

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:11 NLT

That was Paul’s ongoing prayer for them because it was God’s ongoing will for them. Their coming to faith in Christ should result in them becoming increasingly more like Christ. And Paul tells them that their efforts to produce the fruit of their salvation should be accompanied by fear and trembling. And Paul explains what he means by this when he follows it up with the word, “for.” It can be read as “because” and is followed with that which should motivate our fear and trembling: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT). It is the work of God. So, if it is a high priority to Him, it should be to us. And the knowledge that God is personally working in and among us should produce in us a reverence and awe that drives us to cooperate with His efforts on our behalf. Otherwise, we will find ourselves working against the will of God for our lives.

And that brings up an important point. This is a corporate message from Paul that is addressed to the entire Philippian congregation. While there are certainly personal applications we can glean from Paul’s words, he intended them for the body of Christ in Philippi, not individual believers. So, when Paul says, “God is working in you,” he is speaking of the church as a whole. God is attempting to create in them the same sense of unity that He and the Son share. In fact, this was the very thing Jesus prayed for in the garden just hours before His arrest and trials.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17:21-23 ESV

Remember, Paul has been addressing the need for unity in the church. He has expressed his desire that they be of “the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). And now, he is calling on them to allow their salvation to produce the very character of Christ among them.

But what does that look like in real life? Well, Paul chooses to describe what it doesn’t look like. It won’t be marked by grumbling or disputing. There will be no bickering or backstabbing. In other words, it will be free from disunity. Getting along will be a high priority because the body of Christ is to reflect the very character of Christ. Which brings us back to the model of Christ’s own life: Humility, obedience, selflessness, and sacrifice.

And Paul provides a few positive examples of what Christlikeness should look like in the church: Blamelessness and innocence. Paul is not suggesting perfection or sinlessness. But he is calling for the body of Christ to live with its sins confessed so no one can point a finger of blame. And he is encouraging them to exhibit an innocence or moral purity that gives the outside world no cause to cast dispersions on their witness or the name of Christ. And the impact the church has on the unbelieving world is clearly Paul’s concern here. Notice that he calls on the Philippian congregation to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). The blemish to which he refers is a potential stain on their corporate witness due to disunity and internal conflict. It was King David who wrote: “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Psalm 133:1 NLT). And it was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Paul makes a personal appeal to the Philippians, asking them to hear what he is saying and to do it for his sake, out of love for him. Like a proud father, he wants to be able to look back on his work among them and know that it was not in vain. He longs to see the fruit of righteousness in their lives. What would devastate Paul would be a church that started strong and ended poorly. To see the church in Philippi devolve into a community dominated by selfish and self-centered individuals would bring shame to Paul as a missionary of the gospel. But it would also denigrate the redemptive work of Christ.

That is why Paul pleads with them to “Hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16 NLT). He wants them to cling to the message of the gospel, which includes not only their salvation, but their ongoing sanctification, and their future glorification. They were not to forget that God was working in their midst, transforming them into a bright, shining light that was intended to shine the glory of God into the darkness of Philippi.

Paul was willing to die, to see his life poured out as a drink offering to God. But he wanted his life to have made a difference. He deeply desired to know that the church in Philippi would embrace the mind of Christ and pursue the character of Christ – together. And if their pursuit of Christlikeness brought suffering and sacrifice, Paul wanted them to rejoice with him in the privilege of serving God through obedience to His will – following the example of Christ Himself.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

His Way Is Perfect.

“He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to my cleanness in his sight.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
For you are my lamp, O Lord,
    and my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”  – 2 Samuel 22:17-31 ESV

 

This section of David’s psalm contains an interesting contrast. In it we will see David continue to exalt His God, while at the same time, seemingly praising himself for his own blamelessness, guiltlessness and righteousness. At first blush, it would appear that David is bragging about something he has no right to claim. Even if this psalm was written in the early days of his reign, immediately after the fall of Saul, David was far from a sinless man. And yet he claims, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:21 NLT). But wait, there’s more. “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil” (2 Samuel 22:22 NLT). And then he audaciously claims, “I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin” (2 Samuel 22:24 NLT). What is going on here? Is David delusional or simply suffering from an overactive sense of self-worth? One of the things we have to remember is that this passage is virtually identical to Psalm 22, written in the early days of David’s reign. This chapter opened with the descriptor: “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” So this is very early on in his career as king. So context is critical to understanding what David is either saying or claiming. When we read the word, “blameless,” we tend to interpret it as meaning sinless. But it is a word that speaks of integrity of heart or wholeness of character. David was simply saying that he was rescued by God because he had done nothing to deserve God’s displeasure or punishment. David’s suffering under the hand of Saul had not been due to his own sinfulness. He had been the innocent victim of Saul’s anger and jealousy against him. When this psalm had originally been written, David had been coming off years of life as a fugitive, under constant threat of losing his life because of Saul’s hatred for him. And when David writes, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:25 NLT), he is simply acknowledging that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. He had been given two opportunities to take Saul’s life and had refused to do so, out of respect for the Lord’s anointed. He had feared God more than he he despised his own circumstances. David had a clear conscience before God.

But this psalm is less about David than it is about God. It is an acknowledgement that God was all-knowing and fully aware of the circumstances surrounding David’s life. David’s suffering had not been the result of his own sin, but the divine will of a sovereign, all-powerful God. He had seen David’s plight and heard his cries, and He had responded. He had rescued. He had shown Himself faithful to David because David had remained faithful to Him. He had responded to David with integrity because David had shown himself to be a man of integrity. Not all the time. Not every moment of his life. But within the particular context in which this psalm was originally written.

What makes this psalm so interesting is its placement at the close of Second Samuel and at the end of David’s life. It had been written early on in his life, but reappears here when David’s reign in coming to an end. It reflects a reality that David had experienced in his life, but that had not been true every moment of his life. We know of his sin with Bathsheba. We are well aware of the murder of Uriah. We have read about his many faults and failings. David was not always a man of integrity. He didn’t always do the right thing or react in the proper manner. He didn’t always seek God or rely on Him for help. Sometimes he took matters into his own hands. But David did know that, in principle, God rescues the humble, rewards the righteous, and restores the innocent.

But David’s point in all of this is to exalt God, not himself. He is simply trying to state an indisputable reality when it comes to God’s relationship with men. He doesn’t reward the wicked. He doesn’t smile down on the prideful. He refuses to forgive the sins of the wicked, as long as they remain unrepentant and self-reliant. David states, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” That had been David’s experience. He had seen it proven true in his own life. At no point along the way, could David point his finger at God and accuse of Him of dealing falsely or faithlessly with him. God’s way is perfect, even when David’s way was not. God had always dealt faithfully with David. And we have seen that to be the case all along the way as his life’s story has unfolded before us. Even when David had sinned, God had dealt with him lovingly and faithfully. God had repeatedly rescued and restored him. Yes, David had suffered for his sins. He had been forced to endure the consequences of his disobedience to God. But nowhere along the way had God proven unfaithful, unloving or unwilling to keep His promises to David. His ways are perfect. All His promises prove true. He is there when we seek for Him. But He is also there when we fail to recognize or rely upon Him. David may have left God on occasion, but God had not left David.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Doing Right The Right Way.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. – 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ESV

Paul was unashamedly and boldly asking the Corinthians to participate in a fund-raising effort that would be used to alleviate the suffering of the Hebrew Christians living in Judea. Ongoing persecution and the lingering effects of a recent famine had left them in dire circumstances, and Paul was doing all that he could to raise support from all the churches in Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor and Galatia. And the church in Corinth was to be no exception. He wants them to know the joy of participating in the gracious support of their fellow believers, even those whom they had never met. Paul was not commanding the Corinthians to give, because he did not want them to do so out of compulsion or with any sense of regret. But he was unapologetically claiming that their giving would be in keeping with the example of Christ Himself.  Paul reminds them, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9b NLT).

Paul knows that he is doing the right thing. But he has a strong desire to do it in the right way. He is fully aware that everything he does is analyzed and critiqued by his enemies. And while he wasn’t one prone to wasting time worrying about what men thought about him, he did worry about the potential damage his actions might do to the name and cause of Christ. That’s why he was taking special care to handle the collection of the funds in way that was above board and free from accusation by his enemies. He was sending Titus to collect whatever gift the Corinthians were able to provide. They knew Titus and had built a solid relationship with him. But Paul was also sending another individual, “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18 ESV). We do not know who this brother was, but evidently the Corinthians knew exactly who Paul was talking about. He was well-known and well-respected. He had a reputation for trustworthiness, and Paul indicates that he had “been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us” (2 Corinthians 8:19 ESV).

Paul wasn’t taking any changes. He knew that his efforts to raise funds for the Hebrew Christians provided a perfect opportunity for his enemies to accuse him of everything from extortion and greed to larceny and abuse of power. In the end, what Paul was most concerned about was the name of Christ. He did not want to do anything that might damage the reputation of His Savior or detract from the cause of the gospel. So he took extra precautions to ensure that his efforts were blameless and free from any hint of impropriety.

We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. – 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NLT

It was Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed these words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). As believers, we are to do what is right. But it is just as important that we do right in the right way. We must always consider the outcome of our actions. It is essential that we keep in mind that our conduct is always being analyzed by the lost around us. We are ambassadors for Christ and all that we do in this life is done on His behalf. We speak and act on His part. And even our right actions, if not done in the right way, can produce the wrong results and bring harm to the name of Christ. We cannot live with the attitude, “Who cares what they think?” Our conduct has consequences. Our actions speak volumes. Our every word and deed are potential testimonies that will reflect either positively or negatively on the cause of Christ. What we do matters, but how we do it does as well.

Paul was unashamed to ask the Corinthians for money, but he was unwilling to do it in a way that might damage his reputation, hinder his ministry, or bring shame to the name of Christ. “We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 MSG). That is how we are to live. That is the attitude we must maintain. Our mission matters. So does our methodology. We must always strive to do the right thing, the godly thing, in the right way – blamelessly and above reproach.

 

Before the Face of God.

When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me. – Hosea 7:1-7 ESV

As children of God, it is sometimes far too easy to forget that He is there and that He sees all that we do. Because He is invisible to our human eyes, we can find ourselves acting as if He is nowhere in sight and wrongly conclude that He is unaware of our actions. But God is all-knowing and ever-present. He sees all. Nothing escapes His sight. In fact, the author of Hebrews warns us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:13 NLT). The psalmist tells us, “The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race” (Psalm 33:13 NLT). And in the book of Proverbs we read, “The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good” (Provernbs 15:3 NLT). So the idea that somehow God is oblivious to our actions is ludicrous. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. And as followers of Jesus Christ, we should live with that insight in mind.

The idea of living our lives with a constant awareness that God is watching is biblical. When Adam and Eve sinned, God knew immediately. When Cain murdered Abel, God confronted Cain and asked him two questions: “Where is Abel your brother?” and “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:9-10 ESV). God was not asking for an update. He was not in need of a status report regarding what had gone on down on earth. He knew. He was looking for a confession from Cain, but instead He heard lies and denials. Many years later, when Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, was 99-years old, God appeared to him and said,  “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 ESV). God was literally saying to Abraham, “live your life before my eyes.” God wanted Abraham to conduct his life with a constant awareness that He was watching. When God called Abraham to “be blameless”, He was not asking for sinless perfection. The Hebrew word translated “blameless” carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. Abraham was to have no hidden areas in his life. There was to be no compartmentalization, no sacred and secular split, where some things belonged to God and others were reserved for Abraham. What God was asking of Abraham was that he live his entire life, every area of his life, with a constant awareness that God was watching, because He was.

So what does all this have to do with Israel and Hosea? Everything. If you notice in verse 2, God says, “their deeds surround them; they are before my face.” The Hebrew word is פָּנִים (paniym) and it is the same word used in Genesis 17:1. God was telling the Israelites that they were committing their sins “in His face.” While they probably thought their actions were invisible to God, He made it clear that every single sin they committed was visible to His all-seeing eyes. Their kings may have approved of their behavior, but God didn’t. He not only saw what they did, but He knew the motivation behind their actions because He knew their hearts. God spoke through the prophet, Jeremiah, saying, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT). Jesus Himself said, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18-19 NLT).

The Israelites had a heart problem. Their hearts were far from God and it was reflected in their actions. They no longer knew God. They had no fear of God. They acted as if He could not see what they were doing and, even if He did, He would do nothing about it. Sadly, that is how many Christians live their lives today. Rather than understanding that God sees all that they do and even knows the motivation behind what they do, they live as if God is somehow oblivious or disinterested. But God would remind us, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 NLT). He is looking for those who want to live their lives in keeping with His will and with an awareness that He sees all that they do. God doesn’t demand perfection from us, only dependence. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life to which He has called us. Abraham was far from perfect, but he was called the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7). David was anything but sinless, and yet he was called a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). God wants us to live our lives in His strength, according to His will and right in front of His face. He is watching. He cares. He rewards those who seek Him. But He also disciplines those who refuse to rely upon Him and live in obedience to Him. The saddest statement in this entire passage is God’s indictment against Israel that said, “none of them calls upon me” (Hosea 7:7 ESV). May that never be said of us as His children.

Day 129 – Matthew 26:57, 59-68; Mark 14:53, 55-65; Luke 22:54, 63-65; John 18:24

Guilty As Charged.

Matthew 26:57, 59-68; Mark 14:53, 55-65; Luke 22:54, 63-65; John 18:24

Jesus replied, “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 NLT

When Jesus was finally brought before Caiaphas, the high priest, He found Himself in a room crowded with leading priests, elders and teachers of religious law. Even the high council or Sanhedrin was there. They had pulled out all the big guns for this final showdown with Jesus. There is little doubt that they intended this evening to result in the elimination of Jesus as a threat to their authority and way of life. He had been a thorn in their side for far too long, and now they were going to deal with Him. The only problem was that they needed solid accusations for which to bring this matter before the Roman authorities. They were wanting to have Jesus put to death and they did not have the authority to do so. They were going to have to convince the Roman authorities that Jesus had committed a crime worthy of death. So all these well-educated religious leaders were attempting to find any evidence that they could use against Jesus. But even when they couldn’t find any charges worthy of death, they didn’t let that stop them. They had arranged for a variety of individuals to come and give witness against Jesus, but they all ended up contradicting one another. These people were more than willing to accuse Jesus, probably for the hope of financial gain. Finally, some men stood up and claimed that they heard Jesus say that He was going to destroy the Temple. “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands’” (Mark 14:58 NLT). These men were actually twisting what Jesus had actually said. What Jesus had actually said was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19 NLT). Jesus had made this statement early in His ministry. It took place immediately after He had cleansed the Temple for the first time. The Jewish leaders had confronted Him, asking Him what He thought He was doing and who gave Him the authority to do it. Then they asked Him to give them a miraculous sign to prove His authority. That’s when Jesus made His statement regarding the destruction and raising of the “temple.” They obviously didn’t understand that He was talking about His own death and resurrection. They saw Jesus’ statement as ridiculous, exclaiming, “What! It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuilt it in three days?” (John 2:20 NLT).

So in the minds of those accusing Jesus, His statement came across as the words of an insurrectionist. He had claimed He was going to destroy the Temple – Herod’s Temple. Now they were getting somewhere. This was just the kind of evidence they needed to bring before the Romans. The last thing the Roman authorities would want is someone threatening the peace and security of Jerusalem. But to the obvious disappointment of the religious leaders, even the men who accused Jesus couldn’t get their stories straight. So in frustration, the high priest asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” (Mark 14:60 NLT). But Jesus said nothing. The charges were false and He remained silent. Then the high priest asked Him point blank, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61 NLT). This was the real issue. When all was said and done, this was the main point of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. He had claimed to be the Messiah. That was the reason the people followed Him. It was for that reason the people welcomed Him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” when He had arrived in Jerusalem the previous Sunday. He had set Himself up as having been sent by God. Not only that, He had claimed to be the Son of God. Jesus responded to Caiaphas’ question by saying, “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62 NLT). His statement brought an immediate reaction from the crowd because they knew exactly what He was saying. He was claiming to be God. His use of the phrase, “I Am” was intentional. It was the very same way God referred to Himself when He spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Moses had asked God what name He should give when the people ask who it was who sent him. God said to tell them, “I Am who I Am” had sent him. Jesus was clearly associating Himself with God. He was using the same language that God had used in order to refer to Himself. On top of that, Jesus claimed that He was going to be sitting at God’s right hand, a place of honor and power, and that He would be returning some day. That was all they needed. Caiaphas tore his clothes in shock. They no longer needed any witnesses. Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin: blasphemy. He had claimed to be God. In reality, it was Jesus’ words that were the problem. Blasphemy was based on injurious or disrespectful words or speech. In their minds, by saying what He said, Jesus had diminished the holiness of God. He had treated God with disrespect and dishonored His “otherness” or set-apartness. By claiming to be God, Jesus had become an offense to God – at least in their minds.

Their immediate response was violent. They began to spit on Him. They blindfolded him and beat Him with their fists. They mocked Him, telling Him to use His “divine” powers to tell them who it was who was hitting Him. The one piece of evidence they needed, Jesus gave them. And all He did was speak the truth. He acknowledged who He was. To do anything other than that would have truly been blasphemy. If Jesus had denied His deity, He would have been an offense to God. So He spoke the truth, and it set in motion everything that was about to happen. Jesus was guilty as charged. Not of blasphemy, but of being the Son of God and the Savior of the world. His crime was being God. And His punishment would be death. But it was for just that purpose He had come. God had come to die on behalf of sinful men. He had come to sacrifice His own life for the lives of all those who deserved death. It was because Jesus was spotless, sinless, and blameless that He was condemned to die. His worthiness was what led to His demise. He was guilty of being God, and nothing else. And it is for that reason that He made a perfect sacrifice. He was guilty as charged and we are innocent because of it.

Father, Your sinless Son was put to death because He was holy, righteous, and fully God. He was killed because He was who He said He was. He died because He was the only one who was undeserving of death. He was innocent, and we were guilty, but He is the one who died. All so that we might have life. What an amazing turn of events. What an incredible plan.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Psalm 101 – Day 1

I Will…

“I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.” – Psalm 101:2 NLT

What will you do for God? For most of us, we have a long list of things we would like God to do for us. We have prayer requests we would like Him to answer. We have problems we would like Him to solve. We have people in our lives we would like Him to change. Conflicts we would like Him to resolve, illnesses we would like Him to heal, mysteries we would like Him to reveal, cloudy futures we would like Him to clear up. But what are we willing to do for Him? Over and over again in this short Psalm, David says, “I will…” David is expressing to God his willingness to praise Him, pursue a life of integrity, refuse to look at anything inappropriate, reject relationships with the wicked, not tolerate conceit and pride in his life, search out the faithful as his companions, and hire those whose lives are above reproach as his employees. What David was telling God was that he was serious about living a life that was set apart for God’s use. He understood the concept of holiness. David knew that, as God’s chosen servant, his life was to be distinctive and different. It was to be characterized by a different way of life. David was not doing these things in an attempt to please God or win brownie points with Him, but because they are characteristic of someone who shares God’s heart. Back in Psalm 86, David had prayed, “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Great me purity of heart, that I may honor you” (Psalm 86:11 NLT). In Psalm 101, David is describing what he has learned about God’s way – His path for living life. It is a life characterized by integrity or wholeness. It is “sound” or “healthy” in all areas, not just in parts. There is no compartmentalization or hidden areas where God has no sway or influence. David says, “I will be careful to live a blameless life” He is not promising to live a perfect life, but a whole one. He is saying that he is going to do everything he can to live a life that will bring glory to God in every detail. David goes on to tell God, “I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.” That word translated “integrity” shares the same root word as the one translated “blameless” earlier in the verse. Again, it has to do with wholeness and completeness. David is expressing his desire to live a holy, set-apart life in every area of his life – even at home, where no one else can see him.

There is a sense in which we will have to make difficult decisions if we want to live according to God’s way. Like David, we will have to “refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar” (Psalm 101:3 NLT). Think about that the next time you turn on the TV or head to the movie theater. We will have to “hate all who deal crookedly” and “have nothing to do with them” (Psalm 101:3 NLT). David is not telling us to hate the lost, but to refuse to enjoy the companionship of those whose lives dishonor God. Do you enjoy the company of those who have no heart for the things of God more than you enjoy the company of believers? This is speaking more about having a love affair with their behavior than with the individuals themselves. Are the lifestyles of the godless more appealing to us than the lifestyles of the godly? David said, “I will search for faithful people to be my companions” (Psalm 101:6 NLT). He wanted to hang with the holy, not the heathen.

David wanted his life to be different, so he was willing to make changes to the way he lived. He sought new habits and new friends. He chose to give up old ways of doing things. He chose to surround himself with good influences. What are you willing to do for God? What steps are you willing to take to ensure that your life is marked by integrity or wholeness?

Father, You want all of my life, not just the parts that people see on Sunday morning. You desire that I would be willing to make changes to the way that I live. You have given me a new heart and the power to live differently, but I still have to choose to do so. And it begins with the daily decisions to live my whole life for You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org